The North American floorcovering industry remains at a crossroad. Faced with an aging workforce and an increase in retirees as baby boomers leave the industry, we must all do our part to find and cultivate the next generation of movers, shakers and leaders. But that next generation also needs to rise to the occasion and invest in their future at the same time.
For young men and women completing their apprenticeship and entering the workforce as full-time installers, this reality can be a bit daunting. With only a few years of experience, they are still green as can be. Plus, no matter how good their initial training is or was, they must continue to grow in order to become better installers and climb the proverbial “ladder” of success.
So how exactly can this next generation of floorcovering industry professionals become not only better at their jobs, but set themselves up for a lifetime of success and growth? Below are four tips to get the ball rolling. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but following these recommendations gathered from seasoned floorcovering pros is a realistic and achievable start.
Never, Ever Stop Learning
If you ask around the industry for advice on climbing the installation ladder, one of the most consistent answers you will find revolves around education. This may seem obvious, but once installers complete their apprenticeship they tend to replace classroom learning with on-the-job training. Once young professionals have a family and get bogged down in the day-to-day of life, getting them back into a training center can a tough sell.
“Never, ever stop learning,” says Ryan Altic, general foreman for Mr. David’s Flooring International, LLC. “When I had downtime as a young man in the trade, the first thing I did was find training and educational opportunities at my local center. If there was a class available, I took it. No questions asked.” In addition to his fruitful career with Mr. David’s, Altic serves as a part-time instructor at the Northeast Florida Regional Training Center. It’s a position he wouldn’t have today without his dedication to furthering his education in the floorcovering industry and his growing relationship with INSTALL. The curriculum used in the INSTALL training program is co-developed by the Carpenters International Training Fund with input from industry leaders and manufacturers. To stay on the cutting edge, it is regularly reviewed and updated by technical and education experts.
The resulting training program curriculum is built on nine key components:
- Standard Skills
- Resilient Flooring
- Resinous Flooring
- Hardwood Flooring
- Concrete Polishing
- Green Building Awareness
Each category is packed with information taught by INSTALL’s elite team of instructors, including Altic, and offers an incredible amount of value for young installers intent on furthering their education. “One of the main things I tell apprentices and young professionals is to keep your eyes and ears open for every opportunity out there,” added Frank Dove, vice president of DoveLin Enterprises, Inc. “You can always learn something new, no matter how experienced you think you are. Every successful member of our industry has a passion for training and continued education.”
Be A Versatile Professional with a Reputation to Match
While continued education and training is a great way to pad your skillset and increase your marketability as an employee, it isn’t going to amount to much if you don’t use those tools effectively. “Another recommended trick of the trade is to become known as a versatile hustler, with a wide skillset outside of floorcovering installation,” said Altic. “There were times when the schedule would get light and I had some days off of work. Instead of sitting at home or going to the bar, I would put my name on the out-of-work list to do carpentry work.”
It might not have been floorcovering work, but this helped Altic to broaden his skills, it kept him employed and it allowed him to meet and work alongside project managers, contractors and building pros that he wouldn’t normally connect with. “Never stop learning or taking advantage of the opportunities that are out there – even if they aren’t specific to your trade,” he added. “If you’re an apprentice or young person in the industry, go out and get certified in loading, scaffold-building, aerial lift or even forklift operating. These are all skills that will help make you a valuable member of the team.”
Show Your Face
Yet another key component to professional development and improving your reputation in the industry is to regularly attend meetings, events and trade shows. This is where you meet fellow installers, journeymen, carpenters, and other people in the field. Not only that, but you will be exposed to more seasoned pros, company owners and manufacturer reps.
“I find that 90% of the time, the guys who are showing up at meetings and events are the leads on a job site,” said Altic. “It’s a great networking opportunity and you can get valuable face time. The more familiar they are with you, the better they will respond to feedback, criticism or help on the job site – resulting in better communication and a trusting relationship.” Dove agreed, adding that successful young professionals often network and meet tradespeople from outside of their own industry. “Network with everyone,” he advised. “They might share tips, tricks and helpful advice that they have learned from their own trade. You never know what you might find or learn from your peers.”
Competitions and contests are another way to show your off your skills and raise your profile in the industry. Altic, for example, recently won the INSTALL Olympics. In this first-ever event, champions from each of the five districts of the Carpenters Union in the United States and Canada competed in a timed skills installation. Altic took top billing, which was especially meaningful because he represents the Southern District where INSTALL programs are relatively new, and the labor pool is smaller and still developing. His success demonstrates that the INSTALL program is highly capable in providing access to quality training and successful in developing new, qualified labor pools.
When all else fails, prove your worth and increase your knowledge by getting out your phone, laptop or tablet and use the countless tools that the internet has given us. From instructional videos to updated training manuals to case studies, there are dozens of opportunities for professional development and learning-on-the-fly.
“Google is everywhere and it’s free,” stressed Dove. “Instead of sitting at home and watching television, be your own trainer,” he added. “As products and technology continue to change and evolve, it’s critical for installers to keep up with the trends, and this can be as simple as watching a YouTube video or reading a blog on a manufacturer’s website.” With new technology and formulas for glues, epoxies and other materials, installation standards are changing more frequently than ever. “This affects everything from mix-in ratios to curing times,” explained Dove. “The more you know when you walk onto the jobsite, the more valuable you are. It’s as simple as that.”
Go Forth and Prosper
The young men and women of the floorcovering industry are our future. They might be green, but with the right education, mixed with hard work and determination, they have the opportunity and the ability to become the next generation of leaders. There is no better time to find and cultivate this talent, or to rise up to the challenge as a young professional and make yourself known. The future is waiting. Go forth and prosper.
*This article originally appeared in the January/February edition of ProInstaller Magazine.